Brooding YA Hero (Book Review)

brooding ya heroI love YA fiction and reading about tropes is one of my favorite things (so much so that I got distracted in the middle of this sentence to play around on tvtropes), so I figured that Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me by Carri DiRisio would be right in my wheelhouse. And, honestly, it kind of is. At least, the original twitter feed is. It’s hilarious. And accurate. You should check it out. As for the book… Well, I’d stick with the twitter feed.

Summary: What’s it about?

You know the stereotype that comes to mind when someone says “YA fiction”? Now imagine that the generic, brooding, secretive, borderline abusive hero at the center of that stereotypical novel is giving you writing advice. That’s what this book is.

Review: What’d I think?

Brooding YA Hero suffers from a crisis of identity. The titular hero (who I like to imagine primarily as either Edward from Twilight and Four from Divergent) certainly stars in a lot of YA books, and there is plenty to mock about him. But DiRisio knows that not every YA novel stars a Broody, and that YA is, as a whole, quite diverse and progressive. As a result, Brooding YA Hero is stuck in an awkward middle ground. The specific character type that DiRisio is satirizing is generally pretty misogynistic and heteronormative—even if the character himself isn’t actively misogynistic and heteronormative, misogyny and homophobia are at least partially responsible for his existence; he does get away with a lot that female character would be demonized for, and his relationship with the heroine is almost always based heavily on traditional gender roles—so when he starts noticing male/female double standards and advocating for more male and non-binary love interests, it doesn’t fit.

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Final Draft (Book Review)

final draftA couple years ago, I randomly picked up Riley Redgate’s novel Noteworthy and loved it. I sought out her other book, Seven Ways We Lie, and liked that one even more. I have extra fondness for Redgate because she graduated from Kenyon College, which has produced everyone from John Green to Ransom Riggs to Allison Janney to my sister.

Final Draft has been on my to-read list since before it came out. Weirdly, I had a really hard time finding it. I checked multiple bookstores and multiple libraries (across multiple states!) and even failed to find it at the Kenyon bookstore. I finally found it at my new library, and by that point the anticipation was high.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like it all that much. It’s not nearly as good as her earlier books and ultimately I’m glad I found it at a library instead of a bookstore.

Summary: What’s it about?

High school senior Laila is eats, breathes, and sleeps sci-fi. She reads it. She watches it. Most importantly, she writes it. She spends most of her time working on her stories, but she’s too self-conscious to share her writing with anyone but her creative writing teacher, Mr. Madison. When Mr. Madison gets unexpectedly hit by a car and takes an extended leave of absence from school, he is replaced by Nadiya Nazarenko, an award-winning novelist. Nazarenko is not nearly as easy-to-please as her predecessor, and Laila finds herself working to distraction to impress her impossible-to-impress new mentor.

Review: What’d I think?

Caution Angry Rant
Also minor spoilers

I really, really wanted to like Final Draft. Riley Redgate is an awesome writer, and as a rule I love stories about writers and fangirls. Final Draft should have been a home run for me, but it just… never engaged me.

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It’s Not Like It’s a Secret (Book Review)

it's not like it's a secretI read It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura on a whim. I’d never heard of either it or the author, but the cover is cute, the synopsis seemed promising, and it was on the “Angie Thomas recommends” shelf at Barnes and Noble so I figured… why not?

Summary: What’s it about?

Sana knows a secret: her father is having an affair. When her family picks up and moves to California, she knows that it’s to be closer to her father’s mistress, but she doesn’t know how to handle it. Parental-affair-awkwardness aside, California is good for Sana. For the first time ever she has Asian friends who understand her in ways that her white peers never could. There’s also Jamie, the beautiful cross-country star that Sana falls for. As Sana navigates her new life, she is forced to continually assess her own identity as an Asian teenager, as a lesbian, as a daughter, and as a friend to determine when to keep a secret and when to be honest.

Review: What’d I think?

I’m actually surprised by how much I liked It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. I mean, I did buy it, so I was expecting to like it… but it’s deceptively good. The cover is absolutely adorable, but it makes the book look like quick, easy, cheesy story. While it is that, it’s quite nuanced. This novel is a perfect example of how diversity enhances storytelling, because it would lose a lot—and might honestly be a little boring—if Sana and Jamie had been white and if Jamie had been a male love interest.

Identity is central to It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. Sana is a Japanese-American, and her experience is deeply affected by that. She was raised on the dual principals of gaman (endure the unendurable with grace and dignity) and unselfishness (keep your head down and don’t demand individuality, which is a selfish, American construction). The conflicts in the novel arise from these principals meshing poorly with Sana’s new world.

Likewise, Jamie’s experiences (and therefore Sana’s experiences with her) are colored by the fact that she’s Hispanic. Like Sana, Jamie finds community with other students of her background, but her relationship with race is vastly different than Sana’s. There aren’t many novels that approach race the way this one does, and that’s because It’s Not Like a Secret is so diverse. A lot of fiction simplifies race relations to “white” and “non-white” without acknowledging the fact that racism isn’t one-size-fits all. A misconception about the world is that being any kind of minority automatically makes a person an authority on all oppression. Despite being a minority on two counts (Asian and lesbian), Sana has no idea what life is like for Jamie, and vice versa, because their experiences are distinct.

The novel acknowledges subconscious bias and discrimination even on the behalf of good characters. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that only terrible, evil people are ever racist or homophobic; believing that makes it far too easy for someone to say “I am a good person, and therefore I can’t be discriminatory.” The truth is that we all need to be able to address our own biases, so it is important to see Sana realize that she has absorbed racist patterns of thinking and—instead of dismissing them or excusing herself—resolve to actively confront and overcome them. Likewise, even though Sana’s friends accept her cheerfully when she comes out to them, they encourage Sana to break up with Jamie in favor of a boyfriend without realizing they’re being motivated by homophobia. In some ways, these subtle forms of discrimination are more insidiously damaging that outright hate, and seeing them addressed and corrected in a novel is pretty awesome.

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Flowers for Algernon (Book Review)

flowers for algernonIt’s been a while since I read Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. I’ve read it many times—the first time was in eighth grade, when my English class read a play version  that had so much cut out and censored that in retrospect I wonder why we bothered—and it has always been one of my favorite modern classics. It is always interesting to reread novels at different ages, because different things stand out with each reading.

Summary: What’s it about?

Charlie has an uncommonly low IQ but a longs to be smart, so when his teacher from his college for retarded adults recommends Charlie for an experimental surgery that will make him smart, he is eager for the procedure even though it has never been tested on a human before, just on animals like Algernon, a mouse that is the study’s major success story. Charlie chronicles his experiences in a series of progris riports progress reports as his intelligence skyrockets and he begins to experience life from an entirely new perspective.

Review: What’d I think this time?

The writing in Flowers for Algernon is amazing. Charlie’s voice is painfully authentic, and his intellectual growth is depicted incredibly. Charlie’s voice is the best part of the book. When Charlie is at his lowest mentally, his writing is childishly innocent, full of errors and simple ideas. As Charlie gets more and more intelligent, his innocence sharpens to cynicism and both the mechanics and the content of his writing gets more sophisticated. The novel is structured as though it is Charlie’s progress reports for the experiment, which gives the novel very clean edges. The writing is masterful throughout.

The professed morality of the novel didn’t sit with me particularly well this time around, and that is due in large part to the character Alice Kinnian, the teacher who recommended Charlie for the experiment. Alice is portrayed as a kind, intelligent woman; the fact that she is only briefly Charlie’s intellectual equal is tragic. At least, that’s how I remember reading her character every previous time I read this book. This time, Alice creeped me out a little. Charlie is very emotionally immature. Developmentally he is a child compared to Alice, and even when he is as smart as or smarter than her intellectually, there is a power imbalance. Charlie thinks he’s in love with Alice. Maybe he even is. But it still feels like Alice takes advantage of him and even though Charlie feels strongly that he has to overcome all his childhood issues in order to be with Alice, being with Alice doesn’t strike me as a worthy or healthy goal. Strangely, I remember thinking that Charlie and Alice’s relationship was tragically romantic almost every other time I read this book.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×13 Review (I Have to Get Out)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

I’ve gotten very behind on my reviews, because that’s what happens when I decide to go to sleep at a normal time so I can wake up for work instead of staying up to get all writing done. In other words, this review is nearly a week late. Oops.

After fighting against them last week, Rebecca is finally ready to start taking the medication recommended (and prescribed) to her by Drs. Akopian and Shin. It helps that Dr. Akopian reassures her that “Anti-Depressants Are So Not A Big Deal” in style of La La Land. It’s a ridiculous song full of prescription tap shoes, rescue dogs, and meta asides about brand names. Although it’s not my favorite song Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has produced, it has all the staples of the best: it’s catchy, its inspiration is clear, and it addresses serious issues with a light and humorous hand. “Dream Ghosts” will always be Dr. Akopian’s best song, but it’s always a treat when Michael Hyatt sings, because she has a powerful voice. “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal” reminds me that someone needs to re-record all the songs in La La Land.

chris therapy parks and rec

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King of Scars (Book Review)

king of scarsI have been excited to read Leigh Bardugo’s King of Scars for a long time. I discovered Bardugo last year and zipped through everything she’s written. Her Six of Crows duology is one of my all-time favorites, and I enjoyed the Grisha Trilogy as well, even if I’m not as wildly enthusiastic about it. I even read The Language of Thorns even though, as a rule, I don’t particularly like short stories. The fact that King of Scars centers on Nikolai, who is without question the best character from the trilogy (although not the best from the universe as a whole) only made me more excited.

Will this review have spoilers?

Yes and no. There are spoilers for Ruin and Rising and Crooked Kingdom in this review. I do discuss some spoilery developments in King of Scars, but they are clearly marked and separated from the rest of the review so you can read that section or not at your own discretion.

Summary: What’s it about?

Ravka is eternally on the brink of war, and King Nikolai’s peace is precarious at best. Ever since the battle with the Darkling, he has been cursed; at night, he transforms into a hideous, bloodthirsty beast over which he has no control. The kingdom is running out of money. Countries from all sides have demands and gripes. Hatred for and fear of Grisha is still widespread. Nikolai, with his loyal general Zoya, knows that without him, Ravka will fall and that thousands of Grisha will suffer for it. But how can he protect Ravka when he can’t even trust himself to remain himself? Meanwhile, in Fjerda, Nina buries her grief to help smuggle Grisha out of a country that despises them, and discovers a mysterious factory with a horrifying secret purpose.

Do you need to have read Six of Crows or the Grisha Trilogy to read King of Scars?

Yes, both. The Nikolai Duology is a sequel series to both Six of Crows and the Grisha Trilogy, and you absolutely need to have read all of those books before starting King of Scars. It’s not like Six of Crows which benefits from but does not require having read the trilogy. If you haven’t read all the books that come before, you will miss critical plot, character, and world-building information that King of Scars does not sufficiently recap for newcomers. Here’s the correct order:

  1. Shadow and Bone
  2. Siege and Storm
  3. Ruin and Rising
  4. Six of Crows
  5. Crooked Kingdom
  6. King of Scars

You do not need to have read The Language of Thorns.

Review: What’d I think?

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Supernatural 14×13/Episode 300! Review (Lebanon)

SPN season 14

Supernatural’s landmark 300th episode (yikes! Three hundred episodes!) was originally advertised as a glimpse into Sam and Dean’s lives from an outsider’s perspective. I was really excited for that concept, because it would be pretty dang interesting to know how Sam and Dean have managed to live in one place for a couple of years without blowing their cover or starting some really bizarre rumors or getting arrested again. In the end product, though, the townsfolk of Lebanon are a very small part of the episode. There are a handful of scenes that show us what people think of the boys and it’s, like, a baby-sized handful.

I’m slightly disappointed that we didn’t get more of that, but I’m not disappointed by the episode as a whole. I thought season fourteen started out really strong, but then Nick came back and majorly sucked the heart/momentum/logic/etc. out of it. My reviews have been pretty salty lately because I’ve been 2938592858% done with Nick. “Lebanon” is a really good episode, and it renewed my excitement for the show (just in time for another mini-hiatus! Yay, me).

Hopefully the show revisits the whole how-do-people-perceive-the-Winchesters? thing at some point, since it is a cool concept, but after the first few minutes, “Lebanon” actually focuses on something even more interesting and far more thematically relevant: John Winchester.

Sam and Dean have one of their most efficient episodes ever. By the time the episode hits the thirteen minute mark they’ve taken care of not one, but two different cases. First they track down a collector of the occult who killed one of their hunter buddies. They take him out pretty easily, and Dean even gets in a dig about monologuing villains:

DEAN: They always talk too much.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 4×12 Review (I Need a Break)

crazy ex girlfriend season 4

Since last week she was literally a romcom dream-girl, it would be easy to think that Rebecca had kicked her BPD and successfully slain all her dragons. In a lot of stories, she would have. A lot of stories indicate that mental illnesses can be cured by romance, and since Rebecca has spent the last few weeks happily in love and the show is winding down, thinking Rebecca is cured would be a logical assumption. However, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has made a point of taking the more realistic route in lieu of the romantic script. “I Need a Break” sees Rebecca slacking on her therapy, refusing medication because she thinks it turns her into a zombie, and picking fights with Greg.

Rebecca has very much been in a love bubble. Despite their decision to take things slowly, Rebecca hasn’t let Greg spend even a single night away from her since they got back together. Greg is clearly a little annoyed, but he rolls with it and agrees to a romantic couple’s trip to Raging Waters (Rebecca’s Paris), even though it is clearly not the sort of thing that he enjoys.

Meanwhile, Paula is falling apart. She is incredibly overworked because her bar exam is coming up and she is still working full time at the law firm and volunteering at the prison. Everyone is concerned about her because she is burning up, sweating excessively, and has such huge circles under her eyes that it looks like someone punched her in the face. Nathaniel thinks she needs a “woman nap” (the reference is to “Man Nap,” the song Darryl, Tim, and Jim sang to Nathaniel when he was sick). Her client is concerned that she is taking too much medication (eight is never the correct dosage). Mrs. Hernandez thinks that her excessive sweating is a symptom of menopause. Scott is just worried in general. Paula brushes them all off by saying that she has everything under control.

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Children of Blood and Bone (Book Review)

children of blood and bone
I love this cover.

It has been a long time since I posted a book review because it took me nearly two weeks to make it through Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I’m really, really sad not to have liked Children of Blood and Bone, because before reading it I had heard only good things. I thought that I would love it because it’s a diverse YA fantasy. I read pretty widely, but I always come back to YA and fantasy. When they’re done well, they’re my absolute favorites, and diverse fantasy is particularly good (if you haven’t read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, please rectify that immediately). I’m always looking for a new great fantasy series, and I hoped that this would be my next one. Unfortunately, despite its promise, the Legacy of Orïsha series is not it.

Summary: What’s it about?

Orïsha is a land ruled by a cruel king who massacred magic-makers (called magi) in a campaign to destroy magic entirely. Now, anyone who has latent blood in their veins (called divîners) is horribly discriminated against. Zélie is one such diviner, and she has been learning to fight ever since her magi mother was brutally murdered in front of her during King Saran’s bloody raid. When Zélie runs into Amari—the runaway princess who has decided to defy her father by stealing a magical relic—she finds herself on a path destined for her by the gods: she must bring magic back.

Review: Why was I disappointed?

The main problem with Children of Blood and Bone is the painful romantic storyline. Amari’s brother Inan is a captain in his father’s army. Tasked with finding Amari and retrieving the magical artifact she stole, Inan tracks the heroes throughout the book. Inan is not exactly what he seems, though. Unbeknownst to everyone, he has magic in his blood. When he touches the magical scroll, his magic awakens and allows him to create a dreamscape where he and Zélie are able to interact outside of the real world. Of course, despite the fact that they are on opposite sides, they fall madly in love. Being in love with Zélie kicks off Inan’s character development. He hates magic and therefore hates himself, but after he sees Zélie naked (she was really excited to see water, okay) he realizes that magic can’t be thaaaaaaat bad and decides that instead of being his father’s bloodthirsty minion he’ll step up and be a good king who saves Orïsha and makes it a fair and just land, blah blah blah.

There is no reason for either character to fall for the other. Neither is particularly likable, but even if they were, they don’t interact enough to legitimately fall in love… and definitely not enough to be able to overcome a lifetime of hate and fear in order to do so. Trying to force a relationship shortchanges Inan’s development; it would be a lot more meaningful to watch him overcome his prejudices if it wasn’t just because he got the hots for the girl he was supposed to be hunting.

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Supernatural 14×12 Review (Prophet and Loss)

SPN season 14

Isn’t it hilarious how I thought that last week would be the end of Nick? If I had a penny for every time I had to endure Nick after getting bored of him, I’d have, like, a dollar. That is to say, I’d have a lot of pennies but not a lot of money. In other words, there’s a lot of Nick, but I’m not getting anything out of it. For that reason I’ve decided to stop thoroughly recapping his actions and instead just use gifs to demonstrate how I feel about him.

Dean is still planning to go ahead with his locked-box-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean plan, even though it’s far from pleasant. As Sam helpfully points out, this isn’t dying. Michael could keep Dean alive in that box for the rest of eternity, and the rest of eternity is a heck of a lot longer than a cell phone battery lasts and considering that, in his nightmare, Dean really freaks when his phone light dies, I estimate that the whole box solution would work for at most twelve hours before becoming unbearable. Considering that Dean bloodies his fingers and destroys his wall just dreaming about life in that coffin, it’s not a great plan. Still, he’s determined to go through with it.

Thankfully, the world is full of metaphors about why the box is a bad idea. There are several of them this episode, and happily—though not surprisingly—enough of them get through to Dean that he decides to put his stupid, claustrophobic plan on hold until there is absolutely no other option.

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